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How to Hire the Right Real Estate Agent and Not Get Burned

By Linda Schneider | September 24, 2012

Despite the incredible amounts of money at stake, most real estate buyers and sellers make decisions about hiring real estate agents in a vacuum. They don’t know what to ask and how to recognize good and bad signs of service before hiring someone. The consequences can be disastrous.

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Here’s some advice about hiring the right real estate agent and having a great real estate buying or selling experience.

General Advice for Home Buyers when Hiring an Agent

Home buyers need to interview agents. That doesn’t mean scheduling interviews. Interviewing can be done on the spot.

For instance, if you find an agent at an open house and you’re thinking you’d like to work with him or her, go through a quick interview right then at the open house. If you’re not satisfied by the answers you get, walk away and go on to the next open house. Or when you call a “house for sale” sign for information, go ahead and use your interview questions on the phone with the agent immediately.

General Advice for Home Seller when Hiring an Agent

A common mistake home sellers make is to hire an agent who gives a higher opinion of their home's value than it is really worth. Although you may be tempted to embrace that agent as if they were Einstein, the agent is doing you a disservice. Some agents suggest a higher price just to get your listing.

Pricing decisions should be made in consultation with your selected agent, and not be the basis for selecting an agent. Interview agents independently of how they’d price your home. Then work on setting the value of your home correctly based on market comparables.

Powerful Interview Questions

The following interview questions should help you discover quickly if the agent you're talking to is the kind of professional you'd like to work with. You may or may not choose to use all of the following questions, but the more questions you ask, the better qualified your agent will be.

Question 1: References

How many clients have you served in the past 4 months? Will you provide reference names and phone numbers from all clients you’ve served in the past 4 months?

References are meaningless without a context. The first part of the question “traps” the agent. If they tell you they’ve worked with 6 clients in the past 4 months, then you know how many references to look for in the second part of the question.

If the agents can’t provide references for all those clients, ask why not. Judge their responses fairly. Perhaps the clients were divorcing and hated anything to do with selling the house.

Call all references and ask questions about what they liked and didn’t like about working with that agent. Ask for ideas about working with that agent effectively.

Question 2: Communication 

How will you ensure I feel promptly and thoroughly communicated with throughout this process? (Also: How available are you if I have an urgent need or concern after hours or on weekends?)

Agents sometimes fail to keep real estate clients fully informed simply because they don’t have anything to say. A good agent who’s on top of the details may not think about the client’s perspective of sitting at home wondering what’s going on, even if there’s nothing going on.

If your agent is a professional, they will have a system for contacting you regularly throughout the transaction.

For example, some regular communication systems might include:

  • “At the beginning of the week, I’ll leave you a voicemail telling you everything that is expected to happen this week, and the various times we’ll need to talk.”
  • “I’ll call you every afternoon and leave a voicemail about what’s happened during the day.”

When it comes to begin available 24/7 many of the best agents will not work late evenings or even on weekends. They have a balanced life and will only work with people who will respect that balance.

However, they will also make exceptions based on need. For example, if you list your house for sale on a Friday, a good agent will either make an exception for that weekend, or will provide a capable partner in their place.

When it comes to emergency contact, work this out with your agent in advance. If you find out something on a Friday evening and you need to talk to your agent right away, how would you reach her?

Question 3: Removing Conditions

After I’ve signed a purchase agreement, what steps will I have to go through before closing and how will you help me?

If you don’t remove conditions (inspections, loans, etc.), the transaction will fail. Traditional agents will limp through this process, often leaving you angry and frustrated. The Right Real Estate Agent will be able to clearly describe the steps you'll have to take and the potential problems that can arise. Avoid agents who appear to bluster. Look for agents who will tell you the truth.

Question 4: After the Closing

How will you be involved with me after the closing?

This question is not meant to determine anything specific about the kind of service you’ll get from the real estate agent. However, a real estate agent that intends to maintain a relationship with you after the transaction is more likely to be the kind of real estate agent you want to work with during the transaction.


If you get satisfactory answers to these interview questions, you’ll have found an agent worth working with. But remember the oldest adage in business: “Buyer Beware.” Always make the final decisions for yourself, trust yourself, and be willing to walk away.

I’m sure there are many other ways to qualify a real estate agent before hiring. Please share your ideas in the comments below.

Be consistent. Be bold. Be smart. Linda Schneider is a real estate business coach for smart real estate agents who want to be more powerful in their business. Drop by for more about selling skills and real estate marketing ideas to take your business to the next level.

Linda is a real estate coach, trainer, and writer. She brings unique real estate ideas to life and delights in helping others reach their goals. She has worked with Franklin Covey, By Referral Only, Re/Max and Coldwell Banker as a trainer, real estate agent, and investor
  • One comment on “How to Hire the Right Real Estate Agent and Not Get Burned”

    1. For Buyers one vital question to ask your potential Buyer Agent - Do you or the company you work for take property listings? If the answer is "Yes!" then the Buyer needs to know that is is likely at some point in the relationship (when they want to see the agent's or agent's company listings) the agent will have to switch from being a "Buyer" agent to some sort of dual agent or Transaction Broker. This needs to be discussed with the Buyer before the Buyer starts to look at properties so the Buyer can be prepared. There are limitations on the services that a dual agent or Transaction Broker can provide to a Buyer.

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